The Importance Of Digital Assets Estate Planning: Protecting Your Online Legacy
As the use of digital technologies continues to increase, the importance of digital estate plans also grows. The preparation allows estate planners to make many vital decisions, including determining who can access their online accounts after death. As individuals conduct more of their transactions and communications online, planning what will happen to their digital assets after death is increasingly important. Estate planners must ensure they include explicit language granting legal authority to an estate executive or fiduciary to access their digital accounts and assets if they hope for those digital properties to be accessible after they are no longer present to provide authentication themselves. Choosing someone technologically savvy to handle the duties of an executor or trustee, depending on the circumstances, can help ensure that the probate or trust administration process runs smoothly. Schedule a consultation with a qualified digital assets estate planning lawyer at Roulet Law Firm, P.A., to learn more by calling our Florida office at 941-909-4644 or our Minnesota office at 763-420-5087.
What Is a Digital Legacy?
A digital legacy is the online presence and accumulated personal digital data that survive an individual. This type of information typically includes user-generated content the individual has produced, interactions in which they have participated, and online accounts they created. A digital legacy may also include digital content, typically online, that others created about the individual. According to The Florida Bar, estate planners must identify and protect their digital assets because they have personal and financial value.
Digital assets estate planning can give the representative of the estate the legal authority to manage the individual's digital assets after death. They could close accounts, notify online communities, and handle any other duties provided in the instructions the estate planner leaves. People commonly wonder what will happen to all of their social media accounts, such as Facebook, after they die, and that will largely depend on their digital assets estate plan.
A thorough estate plan will include instructions for what happens to the individual's digital legacy. Estate planning documents will need to establish instructions regarding the digital files and records the individual has created throughout their life. While a testator can pass on some digital assets through a Last Will and Testament, some will require more specialized planning. The estate plan must provide the information, such as usernames and passwords, an executor will need to gain access to digital accounts.
Some of the crucial steps for estate planners to take to protect their digital legacy include the following:
- Making a complete inventory of all digital assets
- Create an inventory of electronic devices, such as personal and business computers and laptops, smartphones, and tablets
- Securing online account passwords
A thorough digital assets estate plan protects the estate planner's online identity and makes the executor's duties more straightforward. Leaving behind thorough instructions decreases the chance of misunderstandings and errors.
Digital assets are usually everything identifiable and discoverable that an individual creates and stores digitally with value. Any digital content, whether online or stored locally, may be part of a person's digital assets. That includes the data on cell phones, computers, and external hard drives. According to the Internal Revenue Service, some examples of digital assets include the following:
- Non-fungible tokens NFTs
- Convertible virtual currency
- Banks, investments, and retirement accounts
The estate plan can include an appointment of an Agent Under a Power of Attorney, giving the individual specific authorization to access all of the deceased party's online content and electronic communications. A digital assets estate planning attorney at Roulet Law Firm, P.A., could help prepare the documents in compliance with Florida and Minnesota laws.
Most people in today's world own digital assets in some form, and it is crucial to understand the laws that apply and how to protect and distribute those assets as part of an estate plan. The first step in the arrangement and organization of digital assets is making a list of all digital accounts, including the following:
- Online banking accounts, including a list of all online banking systems used, with the information to access each one
- Cryptocurrency keys
- Intellectual property, including digital collections, text, graphics, and audio files
- Credit card accounts managed online
- Digital wallets with private credit card and bank account information
- Personal and business email accounts with contact lists
- Computer, smartphone, and tablet login and hard drive access
- Cloud storage accounts and login information
- Subscription services and shopping accounts
- Social media accounts, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter
- Domain names, websites, and blogs
- Photograph and video storage and sharing accounts
- Utility accounts
- Gaming accounts and virtual goods
According to Minnesota Statute § 521A.15, the estate planner may select a representative of the estate and grant this individual the legal authorization to act on behalf of the estate after their own death. Providing this authorization can facilitate settling accounts and carrying out the final wishes of the deceased.
One essential step in preparing a digital asset plan is ensuring the individual's family can access their digital assets when they are gone, or on the other hand making absolutely certain that assets will remain secure from family members. A digital estate plan must include thorough instructions about accessing all of their online accounts, or appoint an executor to destroy all personal digital information and provide this individual with the appropriate resources for carrying out these duties. A digital executor may or may not be the same person as the traditional executor of the estate, and the testator should provide the account information this individual will need on a separate document, rather than in the will.
Providing instructions to the digital fiduciary on a separate document is vital because the will becomes part of the public record once the executor submits it to the probate court after the testator’s death. Regulations require the executor to file the will with other required documentation when they petition the court for permission to proceed with probate. The testator must ensure that their personal digital information is retained elsewhere, rather than in the will, because inclusion in the will would make their estate vulnerable to identity theft, even though the individual is no longer alive to be personally affected.
Leaving a digital estate plan with clear instructions regarding online accounts can help your loved ones access them as needed, or can protect your privacy after your death if that is your preference. Digital assets estate planning can also protect your digital identity and legacy after death. As digital activity continues to become integrated into most people’s lives, so does the need for protection of each person’s online legacy and assets, and the incorporation of digital assets into estate planning. A solid digital assets estate plan develops a clear protocol for what should happen to those assets upon death or incapacitation. Call a seasoned digital assets estate planning lawyer at Roulet Law Firm, P.A. today at our Florida office at 941-909-4644 or our Minnesota office at 763-420-5087 for more information.
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